MANCHESTER, NH — You can shop ‘til you drop on Nov. 30 in downtown Manchester and you can park for free on Elm Street, thanks to the efforts of Intown Manchester, which pressed for the parking perk after it was passed over during an October committee meeting.
Saving a few bucks on parking is one small way to show goodwill to shoppers who otherwise might invest their holiday shopping dollars elsewhere, maintains Sara Beaudry, Executive Director for the downtown business development and beautification organization.
And according to Beaudry, it’s also a gesture of goodwill toward downtown business owners — with a nod to retail nostalgia.
Beaudry said offering free parking on Small Business Saturday hearkens back to “Thursday nights in the days of yore,” when downtown Manchester was a weekly destination for shoppers, lured by free parking. However, Intown’s request for free parking on Nov. 30 almost didn’t make it past go. The request was denied unanimously in an Oct. 29 meeting of the Committee on Public Safety, Health and Traffic. It was revived during Tuesday night’s full board meeting.
“I thought this would be a no-brainer,” Beaudry said, expressing her surprise that there were objections from the board to free parking on Elm Street. She was there to ask them to reconsider.
Beaudry said when she found out that the request was not supported at the committee level she put out feelers to downtown businesses and got 24 responses from 14 business owners and 10 business managers, all of them in favor of the free parking for Nov. 30 on Elm Street.
“I think it’s important to show unity between business owners and city officials,” Beaudry said.
Alderman Barbara Shaw, who sits on that committee, said the decision not to approve the request was based on past experience and not “to penalize the businesses but more to provide turnover of spaces so people could utilize the stores, that was our reasoning,” Shaw said.
And in reconsidering the measure on Tuesday night, Shaw said if it went through there should be feedback gathered from downtown businesses after the event to see if there were complaints. “That would help us in making future decisions.”
Alderman Tim Baines, who owns and operates Mint Bistro on Elm Street, said the idea of free parking is a good one, but that it doesn’t have the desired effect in practice. Instead of creating lots of free parking for shoppers, the premium Elm Street parking spots have, in the past, been scooped up by residents and employees, creating a negative outcome for business owners.
Alderman Will Stewart said he echoed the sentiments of both Baines and Shaw and, from an economic development standpoint, urged the full board to uphold the decision by the committee to deny the free parking request.
Mayor Joyce Craig pointed out that free parking is offered by communities on Small Business Saturday with various restrictions, such as limiting the free parking to morning hours.
“It’s up to this board, and I appreciate having the conversation at the board level,” Craig said.
Alderman Joe Levasseur suggested free parking in city garages with validation but was told that garage parking and side street parking are already free on Saturdays.
In the end a motion by Alderman Tony Sapienza to stand by the committee’s decision to deny free parking failed and the board approved free parking on Elm Street for Nov. 30.
Shaw said she hoped downtown business owners would remind employees to take advantage of free parking in garages and side streets so as not to monopolize the Elm Street spaces.